Author's Note: To those of you holding off on reading until we get rid of evil Harry, this is your chapter. Evil Harry went away in 59. Be careful what you wish for.
Voices filled the main hall, hushed and echoing. They rose and fell seemingly in concert with the shadows cast on the stonework by the lamps. Sizzling pain pulsed like heat through Harry's ankle, making him jerk.
"Leave 'im be, 'Mione . . . he's awake," came Ron's voice.
"I'm just . . . Harry?"
Harry raised his head to look at her. The room fell still and pale faces turned his way, waiting, except for Ginny who stood up and called in the direction of the drawing room, "He's awake, Professor." Harry adjusted the dressing gown draped over his bare skin like a blanket and put on his glasses, which he found in the pocket.
"Sit up," Ron said. "We were told to get some food into you when you came to." He reached out of range of Harry's vision and stirred something. "It's just porridge, but we can heat it for you."
Harry's stomach clenched and complained at the sound of a spoon clanking the side of a bowl.
Hermione said, "I'm just trying to get some of this weird silvery dirt out of Harry's skin. It looks like he's been tattooed by a mad spider." She folded her hands together and considered him with a compassionate expression. Harry looked around again, disliking so much of an audience. Luna and Neville sat on the opposite couch with Lavender and Aaron on chairs. Neville had his wand out, Harry noticed.
Harry pushed himself to sit up and accepted the bowl. Recent memory warned him the gaping hole in his being may be more than hunger.
Snape strode over and stood beside the flattened couch and peered at him over Ron's shoulder. Harry had the distinct impression from his gaze that he too wished there were fewer people about. Feeling a bit like a sideshow attraction, Harry started eating.
"Do you need any potion?" Snape asked.
Harry shook his head, feeling more out of sorts at being fussed over. His stomach suddenly felt too sour with regret to eat anything, but it clenched again, ravenous, and he gave into it. What seemed like a large bowl disappeared quickly and he was still famished. Ron took the bowl back and sent a questioning glance over his shoulder.
Snape said to Harry, "You can have more in half an hour, if you keep that down."
"Porridge looked good," Ron muttered, steadying the spoon as he set the bowl aside.
"I can make you something," Snape offered.
"No, no, that's all right, really," Ron blurted. "Not that hungry."
Footsteps approached and Candide said, "I can cook dinner for everyone."
Luna rose up and dreamily said, "I can help."
"It's all right, stay with Harry. A few wand waves and we'll have a little something." She deposited Arcadius into Snape's arms and started off, pausing to touch Harry on the shoulder. "Glad you're feeling better, Harry."
The worried faces in the room relaxed into amusement at the sight of Snape settling the baby onto his arm, then looked away as he sent a glare around at them all.
Candide went off to cook because there was no elf. Harry's chest twisted as he envisioned Winky's fallen body over against the wall.
Snape tapped Ron on the shoulder, several times, until he moved off to sit elsewhere. He stepped right up against the couch and stated, "Winky is expected to be released from St. Mungo's in three days." Harry held his breath, trying to feel his way through this news. His elated relief faded rapidly; he had still injured her, badly. Snape looked like he wanted to say more, but held back and returned to the drawing room after another admonition that Harry should ask for anything he needed. Harry's friends drew nearer in his wake.
Harry had not intended to sleep, but the porridge filling in the corners of his stomach pulled him down into it. He woke to the scents and sounds of real food.
"Mmm, omelets for dinner; my favorite," Ron was saying between bites.
Harry came fully awake with a start, heart racing. He could feel a sickly shadow very close by. Groggy and shaking he sat up and, with some difficulty in keeping himself covered, pulled the dressing gown around his shoulders and tied it, knotting it so forcefully it cut into his waist. Voices came from the dining room, but a few friends sat in the main hall. As he stood up, Candide said, "Harry?"
With grave concentration on each step he took, Harry approached Vineet, who was sitting on the couch beside Hermione. Hermione set her plate on the floor and stood up. "Harry?" she said, putting her hands on Harry's arms, voice full of worry. Harry could barely sense her touch, the shadow so tainted his perception. He bumped into Hermione, stopped, and physically set her aside. She had her wand out in the next instant. Vineet sat forward, but otherwise remained stonily calm.
Harry dragged his attention from his one and only goal long enough to push her hand down. Gently, not grabbing it, just making a point since he could not argue with her directly. She wavered, eyes pooling with liquid, so raw, so close to losing control. Harry felt a stab over that too. He stroked her face, trying to figure out how to say he was sorry. He touched his own heart and touched her face again. She lowered her wand to her side and bit her lower lip, eyes reddening.
Without turning from her, he put his hand on Vineet, like a blind man feeling his way. He had bolstered himself for the revulsion, but almost pulled back. The sickliness went straight to his heart, making him wish to empty his already empty stomach. Harry turned to face him. Vineet's gaze was as unperturbed as ever. Harry put a hand on each of his shoulders and pushed at the curse, but his feeble strength resisted. Vineet put a hand up to cover one of Harry's, as if to steady him.
Beside him, Hermione said, "I think he's saying he's sorry."
Harry closed his eyes. The rest of reality slipped away and he and the shadow floated in a void. Pushing the curse away was worse than pushing oil under water with his fingers; this time it was sticking to him as well. But Harry refused to give in. He drew in a deep breath and clamped his lips together to hold it in. He dredged strength up from somewhere, raw determination perhaps, and pushed. The curse gave way, searing a blood-red lightning bolt across Harry's inner vision. The world tumbled and smacked him on the shoulder and back, and then there was nothing.
Harry came to with his heartbeat throbbing deafeningly in his neck. Snape was yelling at someone. A spell flared and Harry's limbs tingled painfully.
"Get me the Reanimation Potion from the tray, quickly," Snape said, snapping his fingers repeatedly.
A bottle was forced between Harry's lips and he nearly choked on a trickle tasting of rotted berries. But a strange buzz flowed into him from his tongue, making his chest expand and drop, expand and drop, like he was someone's toy.
"Harry? Harry?" Hermione was kneeling beside his head, petting his face with strange frantic movements. "Harry, please be all right."
"Why did you not stop him?" Snape demanded.
"I didn't know what he was doing," Hermione replied, defensive.
Voice snapping like a whip, Snape retorted, "You were to keep a close eye on him."
Hermione's hands gripped his face harder. "I didn't know he was going to kill himself again!"
Snarling, Snape said, "He has clearly lost what little better sense he had. You must watch him constantly."
Hermione fell silent before she said, "You are saying Voldemort was the entirety of Harry's better sense?"
Snape did not reply, but moments later, Harry was lifted bodily and placed back on the couch. He felt downright awful: his lungs hurt and his heart struck into his ribs as if it had swollen up and were too big to fit inside him. He tried to sit up, but Snape pushed him back.
"Call a Healer here, Professor Granger, if you would." He turned to Harry. "And you. Remain. Put," he seethed. Harry had not faced this level of unchecked anger from Snape in a very long while. Snape put his fingertips to his forehead and rubbed fitfully. When he lowered his hands he had composed himself.
"You are quite weak. I cannot imagine what you thought you were doing."
Harry waved a hand in Vineet's direction. There were no longer any shadows nearby. There was one more some distance off, but not sickening the immediate space. There were no others. Not even in the far distance. As relieved as that made him, it plucked at the empty feeling dogging him.
Snape looked up, snapped his fingers and gestured for Vineet to approach. "The rest of you, out of the room."
The gathering shuffled off to the dining room with many backward glances.
Voice low, Snape said, "Well?"
"My Mark is removed. Reduced to ash." He rubbed his chest through his robes.
Snape's face twitched—from controlling his anger, Harry guessed. "Why did you let him do that?"
"To which do you refer?"
"Either one," Snape interrupted, hissing as he spoke.
Vineet put his hands straight at his sides and pushed his shoulders back. "The first, I did because it was requested of me, to insure I could remain always close enough to assist in whatever might come."
Harry poked Snape on the arm, provoking him to roll his eyes. But his guardian gave up the worst of his anger with a shake of his head.
Vineet went on. "The second, I did not understand in time. I did not know it could be reversed."
"Your lucky day then."
Harry tugged on Snape's sleeve until his guardian looked his way. With his eyes he sent his utter lack of regret at what he had just done, no matter the cost.
"Precisely my point," Snape returned. "You have lost what little sense you had. Which was not much to begin with."
The Healer had arrived, the stooped older wizard who had come to the house previously. He pondered Harry's strange wounds for a while, tsking and hming, until Snape interrupted with: "His heart stopped and we had to revive him with Stimspells and a Reanimation Potion."
"Ah," the old man said, as if this clarified everything. He reached into his bag for a few bottles and began mixing. While his collapsible cauldron bubbled away, he incanted something long over Harry's chest that eased his pounding organs. Harry dutifully drank down the three horrific tasting potions the Healer mixed together and nodded through his instructions to not Apparate, not take a hot bath, and not fly on a broomstick at high speed for at least a week.
Snape returned from seeing the Healer off and fetched a chair which he placed at Harry's side. With a flick of his robes he sat down and crossed his arms. "Don't you dare go anywhere," he said to Harry.
Harry sat up a bit more, trying hard to not show how much a struggle it required. He waited for Snape to look his way again and touched his own lips then his heart then his lips again, trying to say he was sorry.
Snape turned his head away, but Harry could see his eyes were too bright and he looked to be struggling internally. Harry put aside any notions he had of finding Belinda that evening.
Sitting idle when he could fix something made Harry miserable. He curled up and used his arm as an additional pillow. There were so terribly many things to made amends for—Belinda was just the beginning. He had plunged that other world, the one where his parents still lived no less, into a state of disaster, and he had no idea how to fix it. Imagining his mother's disappointment when he not only had failed to defeat Grindelwald, but had run away in fear, made him curl up tighter.
Harry's injured limbs complained about his cramped posture. He flipped onto his other side, violently impatient with himself. If only he had not released Grindelwald from Dumbledore's care. Harry curled both arms over his head, trying to shut out everything.
The tearing pain rose up again, blossoming through his middle, rendering him hollow with an icy breeze fluttering the frayed edges of his being.
"Harry?" Snape's said.
The clawing emptiness reached a crescendo and finally dropped off, leaving Harry flat on his back and breathless.
"Harry has epilepsy now?" Lavender asked.
Someone was gripping his arm, and based on the nearness of Snape's voice, Harry assumed it was he. "I do not think so, precisely."
Harry concentrated on the solidity of the fingers around his arm until he could breathe freely again. He must have fallen asleep because he woke up in his own bed, in his own pyjamas. Neville sat in the corner of the room, reading one of Harry's dark magic books by pinning it to the floor with a spell that gave the book the appearance of being bolted there.
"Morning Harry!" he said, chipper despite the weak light coming in the small window.
Harry desperately needed the toilet. He sat up and struggled to his feet.
"Need help?" Neville asked, standing and coming over.
Harry firmly shook his head and waved him off. He did accept help putting on his dressing gown. His limbs did not want to move quite the way he told them to.
"Still can't talk, eh?" Neville asked as Harry tied his dressing gown on.
Harry shook his head.
Harry shrugged. He was growing used to it. It saved him a lot of trouble, really.
After a hearty breakfast, Harry made his way slowly to the main hall and settled gratefully onto the couch. Snape said to Harry's assembled friends, "I need a few hours alone with Harry, if you would allow it."
They nodded and murmured and shuffled off, yawning and making plans to meet later. Hermione remained beside the door to the dining room until everyone else was gone. Snape waved her off as well before turning back to Harry.
It was early still, not even 7:00, and Candide was still abed with Arcadius, so the house was completely quiet.
Snape paced once before sitting beside Harry, fingers steepled. After half a minute, he reached over and clasped Harry's hand, which still lacked for two fingers, but did not hurt at all.
"I cannot fully express how pleased I am with you," Snape began. He exhaled audibly. "I apologize for losing my temper with you yesterday evening. Finding you dead on the floor due to your own heedless behavior was a last straw of sorts, one might say."
Harry ducked his head and touched his lips and his heart in turn.
Snape watched him do this and turned back away before he went on. "Despite the extreme nature of the circumstance, it was not fair of me. You put yourself through hell, quite literally, for our sake and in comparison reanimating you was rather a minor task."
Harry watched Snape's face in profile as it went through a series of shifts, brow furrowing and relaxing, mouth working in little twitches without speaking further. Harry put his other hand over Snape's, feeling worse.
Snape pulled his hand free and turned bodily. "I do not mean to bring on another attack. I am attempting, actually, to alleviate some of your guilt. Unsuccessfully, I am sensing."
They looked at each other for a time, until Snape said, "I need to fetch you something to write with, I think."
Harry shook his head and touched his lips and his heart again. He found that gesture sufficient and feared the embarrassment of attempting to write anything in front of his old exacting teacher.
Snape tilted his head to better catch Harry's eyes. "You would only use it to apologize, wouldn't you?" He sat back. "Never mind, then."
He put an arm around Harry and pushed his head to his shoulder and held him there. "I could not be more proud of you, Harry." He stroked Harry's head, mussing his hair. "I could not formulate any even remotely conceivable way to help you and was beginning to despair for what ends I would be driven to." He fell silent again.
Harry let himself relax against Snape's solidity. He had felt an attack coming on, but it had vanished, which left him acutely relieved.
They sat like that for a while, until Snape's hand gripped Harry's head hard enough to pull on his hair. "You have to promise me that you will not attempt to cure your second, or any other servants I don't know about, until I give the say so. And that you will assure that I am present."
Harry did not like this promise; it made his heart ache with renewed inaction.
"Harry?" Snape's voice grew stern.
Harry nodded, rocking his forehead against Snape's shoulder.
"All right. Good."
The daylight grew brighter through the windows high on the wall. A musical sound like plucked strings came from the drawing room. Snape lifted his wand and gave a hook-shaped wave. A moment later, Harry's pet came flapping madly through the doorway.
Harry lifted his head and caught Kali full in the chest as she came barreling at him. With effort, because she was trying to burrow into his robe, Harry picked her claws free and held her up. She was midnight blue now except for the scars on her wing membranes which were still violet.
Harry glanced at Snape in question as he cradled his pet, herding her toward his pocket where she could rest without pricking him quite so much.
"I don't know. Perhaps Hagrid would have some insight." Snape appeared to want to say more, so Harry narrowed his eyes at him, not wanting anything left unsaid.
Snape smiled faintly. "I have some ideas about testing your magic, but not until you are healed. She is a kind of test; that is what made me think of it." He tilted his head. "Satisfied?"
Harry made a face that conceded he was. Kali finally settled in his pocket in a ball with no claws poking outward. He too settled back and could not help considering all the things that had gone wrong in the last half a year.
"You will bring on an attack doing that," Snape said softly, "empathetic pet or no."
Harry turned his hurt gaze toward him. Snape took his hand again and sandwiched it between his own.
"Harry, if you have made this one impossible thing right, there is nothing you cannot make right. But you must heal first." His tone hardened, but there was a strange flicker behind his eyes as he added, "If you do not, I will potion you into a coma until you are. Do not imagine I won't. Do not imagine that a single one of your friends would question my doing so, that they would, in fact, hold you down and assist me."
Harry could not resist grinning.
"That's more like it," Snape said. He pushed forward on the couch and turned to Harry. "Speaking of which, I expect your friends will be returning shortly, despite the early hour."
Harry made a small face.
"Are they tiring you?"
Harry tilted his head side to side.
"I prefer that you are not alone to sulk. And, while I can give you my own company, I suspect that will grow tiresome quickly enough. I will limit the house to three or four at a time. Will that suffice?"
Harry nodded, then frowned, feeling badly about sanctioning his friends. He studied Snape's worn face, the sprinkle of grey at his temples and felt worse.
"You need not concern yourself with me," Snape admonished. He lifted his hands and used them to grasp Harry's face. Speaking directly at him, just inches away, he said, "I do not want you to harm yourself further with guilt. You made the ultimate sacrifice and at the moment, certainly not until you are healed, you have nothing whatsoever to bear guilt for." Snape's gaze roamed over Harry's face taking him in. "Do you understand me?"
Harry nodded as best he could with his head captured.
"Believe me that I should know." Snape added wryly. "More so than you probably imagine." He pulled Harry's head down and touched his lips to his forehead.
When he was released, Harry shot him a look that said, you are treating me like I'm Arcadius.
Based on his studious gaze, Snape required extra moments to interpret this. He said, "And what of it? You and he are equally communicative."
Harry rolled his eyes. But he felt strangely warm inside. Such a gesture required more than an ordinary amount of effort for this man.
"Would you like me to read you the newspaper until your friends return?" When Harry held his hand out for it, he asked, "You wish to try? I noted, just a moment ago, your self-doubt about writing . . ."
Harry extended his hand out further. He did not imagine he could not read. Snape folded it to the headline and held it out. "I was not intending to test you yet, but go ahead, if you wish."
Harry unfolded the paper to reveal a photograph showing a riot at a Harpies Quidditch match against what appeared by the uniforms to be the Russian National Women's Squad. Above this, the words were in bold, but at first they were mere random arcs and lines each tipped with decorative little serifs. He blinked at them and concentrated, tracing along the lines, distracted by the punches being thrown in the picture below. But just as he was going to give up and hand it back, the words took shape: Bruising Brawl Befalls Holyhead Faithful. It was not worth the effort, sadly.
He pushed the paper at Snape, the words scattering in his mind like the figures in the photograph as soon as he relaxed his concentration.
Harry stood up and looked around for his Auror books. A handful of them were stacked under the end table opposite. Snape put out a hand to restrain him from heading that way.
"Why don't you rest instead?"
Harry put on a stubborn face and stared him down. Snape gestured at the books with his hand and said, "As you wish."
Harry spent some time choosing which book to look at based on his memory of their covers and stubbornly refusing to ask Snape to read to him and instead sat with pages full of word shapes in front of his nose.
Hermione arrived before the others, after barely an hour. "I hope I'm not interrupting. I couldn't stay away long. How are you, Harry?"
Harry had the filing procedure book open before him. He was frustrated with the way only two or three words at a time would come into comprehension and then he would get stuck at a long word. Words with a dash that went from the end of one line to the next were impossible.
"Good to see you studying, Harry," Hermione brightly said as she shucked her cloak and sat down.
On the couch opposite, Snape crossed his arms and considered Harry expectantly. He helpfully offered to Harry, "Straining at that is unlikely to help."
Hermione looked between them. "What's wrong?" After a gap, she said, "Oh, Harry can't read either?"
Harry longed to throw the little green book against the wall, but he left it open on his knees instead. Hermione slid over closer and slipped the book away to look at it. "What do you think is going on with him?" This was directed at Snape, Harry belatedly realized.
"I suspect it is magical shock of sorts. Or Harry may have injured himself more directly. The magic he performed was hardly Ministry tested and approved. But it matters little which it is."
Harry glared at him.
"Truly," Snape intoned. "In the grand scheme, this is a far better outcome than any we could have hoped for. When you have recovered physically we will address this issue if it still needs it."
Hermione flipped through the booklet. "Do you want me to read this to you?"
Harry shook his head and turned away to rest his chin on his fist.
"Oh dear," Hermione said, "you aren't feeling sorry for yourself, are you?"
Across from him, Snape put his fist to his mouth and coughed. He recovered his stern mode and said, "It will get better, Harry, that I am certain. How much better, I do not know. But you are working with only a day of recovery and it is too early to make any assumptions."
Harry did not relent on his grim thoughts. Snape stood and approached. "Do you want me to give you a little test right now?"
At Harry's sad nod, Snape retreated to the drawing room and returned with a deck of cards. He gestured that he wanted Hermione's seat beside Harry and sat down. He palmed the deck and pulled out three cards and set them before Harry, face up. "See those?" At Harry's nod, Snape scooped them up and slipped them into the deck. As he shuffled the cards, he pulled the newspaper out of his pocket, laid it between them on the couch and said, "Do you know, Harry, that on the eighth of April the wizard astronomer Percival Tyrell declared that asteroids were composed of diamond dust, and that he would be selling gems he claims to have collected from same at Baubles and Bright Things at Thirty-Four Diagon Alley? At the exorbitant, I would say, price of a hundred and ninety-nine Galleons, sixteen Knuts." Watching Harry's face, he fanned the deck so each of the card numbers were visible.
"Pick out the three cards from before."
Harry stared at all the little symbols. Color was easy, and shapes, and faces. He had counted pips just in case the symbols went crazy on him. He ran his finger along to the eight of spades and tugged that one out, found it had too many spades on it, found the other curved symbol like two circles and pulled that one instead. Then, while Snape held the deck, he pushed the cards apart to better see the pictures and found the red ladies. Diamond or heart? Harry closed his eyes and visualized the heart and pulled that one. The last one was harder, it had a full set of splotches on it, black ones, two symbols. Harry found the ten of clubs and pulled that one too.
Holding the cards, Snape brushed his knuckles over Harry's cheek. He ducked his head and packed the deck away in his pocket. "Your memory is fine, Harry. You just need to be patient with yourself. Why don't you rest instead of trying to read anything. Sleep would be even better. Sleep and dreams let the mind reorganize and heal and I believe that is what you are most in need of. Ministry filing procedure isn't going to change before you recover to bravely tackle it."
Snape went to the drawing room and Hermione whispered, "You picked out the right replacement father, Harry."
Harry still wished he was better right now. It pained him to wait for anything. He considered going upstairs to change into jeans and a robe, but instead he yawned and curled up against the armrest, trying to take Snape's advice. He closed his eyes, calmed by the feel of Hermione's hand resting on his shin. Kali struggled out of his pocket and crawled up to sleep draped on his shoulder.
"Harry," Hermione whispered. "Still awake?"
Harry cracked an eye at her to let her know he was.
"We're always here for you, you know. You don't have to worry about anything."
Harry nodded, appreciating her sentiment, even as mistaken as she was.
"I'm sorry we couldn't do more for you before."
Harry waved her off. He was just glad she was all right, but he had no way to say that. He put his hand over hers instead and tried not to imagine how miserable it would be if he had hurt her. His heart raced and his skin flushed with stale panic to remember threatening her. Her forgiveness was unearned, but perhaps someday he could make it up to her. Setting his thoughts to that, Harry's aching muscles relaxed and his eyes no longer clenched closed.
Harry woke to new voices and a familiar fruity-floral scent hovering around him. He opened his eyes to find Tonks bending close.
"He is under orders to rest," Snape was saying.
Mr. Weasley stepped into view and Harry pushed himself to sit, spurring Kali to grip him with her claws. Harry lifted her clear, thinking he needed to have Hagrid trim her claws down to something shorter than a hypodermic needle. The thought of setting her down made his heart speed up, so he bundled her into the crux of his arm and held her there.
"Mr. Weasley would like a word with you, Harry," Snape said. "In an official capacity, I am sensing."
Mr. Weasley gave Harry a pained smile. "How are you feeling, Harry?"
"My two youngest filled me in a bit. The rumors are flying fast and furious about you right now."
Harry shrugged, uncaring.
"Why don't we go into the drawing room?" Snape invited. When they were inside, he closed the door on Hermione and Neville in the main hall and ran a quick series of Privacy Charms.
When Snape finally sat down, Mr. Weasley said, "Perhaps I can hear from you directly exactly what happened."
Harry assumed this was not being asked of him, so he felt free to watch Tonks. Her hair flared hot pink when she noticed his gaze. It was strange; he felt friendly affection for her, but beyond that he felt nothing. He could not see her as more than ordinary, even as much as he could remember a definite sexual desire for her.
Harry missed the conversation. Snape smoothly cut into the awkward silence with, "Mr. Weasley would like to know more than I can tell him, Harry. I am wondering if you would let us see your memory."
Harry shook his head.
"It's important, Harry," Mr. Weasley said, sounding official.
Harry did not respond to this since he did not want to keep shaking his head.
Mr. Weasley said, "Reggie interviewed the Garda who brought you home, but she didn't tell us much. Seemed very amused to tell us to ask you." He fell silent. "Strange doings, Harry. We'd like to be certain what is what."
Snape sat forward in his desk chair. "Harry is quite certain Voldemort is gone."
Tonks asked, "Really and truly?"
Harry made the gesture where he made his hands attack each other.
"Can we give him something to write with?" Mr. Weasley asked.
Harry closed his eyes and sighed. Snape stood and came around the desk. He touched Harry on the shoulder with his fingertips and said, "Let me see just a bit more of what happened, Harry. Then we'll be done here. All right?" His voice was bizarrely sympathetic and cajoling.
Harry took a deep breath. He felt an attack coming on just from considering reliving those moments. He wrapped his arms around his middle and rocked, trying to fight it off. He could not have an attack now, not in the middle of an official Ministry meeting.
"What's happening?" Tonks asked.
"Harry is still recovering," Snape stated. He crouched before Harry and grabbed his arm, holding him steady. "His experience was rather horrific, and reliving it, even in memory, is debilitating for him."
Harry passed through the pain and sat up a little, breathing hard.
"All right there?" Snape took Harry's chin and turned it toward him. He was lower than Harry and that made it easier to face him. Snape said, "While you are strong enough but still in the memory, just give me what I need to know . . ."
Harry remembered the creatures piling together, Voldemort enraged enough to attack while possessing the demons, the demons falling upon each other, killing each other, Voldemort dying a little each time, and driven further into raging madness.
"He destroyed himself trying to harm you in the end," Snape observed. He stroked Harry's arm and stood up. "I believe Harry is correct. Voldemort finished dying in countless little pieces, from what I can tell . . . from what Harry can tell, actually. He possessed the creatures in the underworld to attack Harry and that was his final undoing." He sat back at his desk and thoughtfully said, "Undone by evil greater than he could understand, but insufficient to overcome Harry's strengths."
The four of them sat in silence until Snape said, "Do you wish to return to the Ministry Aurors' Program, Harry?"
Harry nodded eagerly.
Snape turned to Tonks and Mr. Weasley in turn. "I do not think that was the original intent of this meeting, but perhaps we can address it nonetheless." At Mr. Weasley's nod, Snape said, "Harry is not quite himself, would in fact need some accommodation for the foreseeable future, but I hope you will consider taking him back."
"Of course," Tonks blurted, then turned sharply to Mr. Weasley, who nodded, face full of emotion as he gazed upon Harry.
Harry sent his guardian a grateful smile.
Snape said, "It will most likely be two weeks, at least, before Harry can return, and even then in a limited capacity."
"We understand, Severus," Mr. Weasley said. "I'm assuming this . . . attempt to kill himself was a one-time thing?"
Snape turned to him and after a beat, said, "Yes, of course."
"And the Minister also wants to know if he can still judge the DV Day dueling tournament on May the fourteenth. That's three and a half weeks. If he's rejoined our program by then, I expect it will not be a problem."
They stood to depart with Mr. Weasley saying, "Anything you need?"
Snape shook his head.
Mr. Weasley gently shook Harry's hand as he passed him. Beside him, Tonks said, "Can I have a minute alone with Harry?"
Harry pushed to his feet, trying to appear stronger than he was. Snape glanced between the two of them and closed the door.
Tonks asked, "You really did as Ginny said and scared Voldemort out of you by nearly killing yourself?"
Harry nodded, hoping he did not have to discuss this with everyone he met from here on out. Her hair pulsed brown as she touched his arm. He tried to stand straighter, confidently, as if everything were normal.
"You going to be all right?" She asked. "You look like hell."
Harry swallowed and nodded absently, embarrassed. He had treated her badly, had threatened to reveal her secrets to the Ministry. He made sure she was looking straight at him and touched his lips and then his heart.
She laughed lightly. "Is that how you say you're sorry?" Before he could respond, she gave him a hug. "No worries . . . it works." She held him at arm's length to look him over. "Creepy though, thinking about how much of who you were wasn't really you. But you're just you now, right?"
She eyed him closer. "You're not just not talking because you don't feel like it, are you?"
It was Harry's turn to smile. He shook his head.
"I look forward to seeing you at the Ministry, Harry." She hesitated. "Unless . . . you want to get together sooner." She had ideas behind her eyes that tried to raise Harry's body temperature. She was most definitely cute, especially when she looked at him with such wide eyes, but his former deep attraction for her was utterly absent, making him worry it had never been his at all.
Harry stroked her cheek and pulled his hand away to shake it in frustration at not being able to explain. But really, it would be awkward to try, so perhaps this was better.
"I think I understand. It's all right. You need some time and maybe not ever . . . have I got it?"
Harry sighed in relief, then laid his hand over his heart again, apologizing with his eyes.
"You're a doll when you do that, you know," she teased. She sighed too. "I know Arthur already asked, but do you need anything? Ginny said you were quite badly injured."
Harry pulled up his sleeve to give her a glimpse of his rippled, grey dirt-stained flesh.
She gasped. "Harry! That looks terrible."
He tossed his sleeve back down and shook her concern off.
"You're like that all over?" She appeared even more horrified.
Harry emphatically shook his head.
"Well, thank goodness for that. I worried maybe that was why . . . never mind."
Harry suppressed his own horror at that thought.
"Sorry," she said, giving him a chummy hug. "Didn't mean to scare you like that." She knocked him on the chin and said, "I'll see you at the Ministry, Harry, if not sooner. It's not the same without you there."
Tonks and Mr. Weasley's visit left Harry drained. He took up his usual spot on the couch with Kali in his arms and tried to think about nothing much at all.
In the afternoon, Ginny and Aaron took over from Neville and Luna. Ginny eagerly picked up Harry's book on Advanced Spells for the Splitting of Other Spells and began reading aloud.
Aaron complained, "We'll get our assigned reading done whether we want to or not."
Harry propped his head on his hand and listened as closely as he could. Thinking about how far behind he was made him breathless, on top of guilty about everything he could not fix. Just about the only thing he did not feel bad about was frightening the Dursleys. He hoped no one had thought to inform them that he was better.
As the amusement of this notion faded, Harry sat up straight, pulling a partly healed muscle in his abdomen. Ginny's reading faltered as Harry pushed to his feet and looked around for Snape.
Ginny loudly said, "Professor Snape, I think Harry wants you."
Snape came out of the dining room at a dash, glanced at Harry's face and tilted his head toward the drawing room. Snape shut the door behind them and spelled it Imperturbable.
"What is it?"
Harry dug around for some paper, found only important things and dug some more.
"Here, let me. Calm down."
Snape pushed his papers back away, even scattered as they were, and pulled out a used sheet of parchment and turned it to the backside and handed Harry a quill. Harry got to a laughable version of "Beli" before Snape slid the parchment away.
Harry nodded. He wanted Snape to talk to her and hoped he could write that. Given the subject matter, he was loath to let Snape see his inner visions.
"I've already taken the liberty of paying her a visit, yesterday while you were napping with your friends here to watch over you. I informed her, although she retains some doubts, of your change of personality. And assured her that as soon as is possible, pending significant improvement in your health, her Mark will be removed by you."
Harry exhaled the stress that had swamped his meager strength. Then glanced up curiously, wondering how Snape knew all that.
"You underestimate me," Snape stated sternly, but then his face relaxed. "I also informed Ms. Beluna that you would be piling on the apologies, albeit using a kind of charades, which would have to suffice."
Harry narrowed his eyes, hoping Snape had not really said that.
"No, of course I did not say that," Snape huffed. "I should have."
Harry gestured for the parchment back and wrote Vis before Snape said, "You wish to have Vishnu go and speak with her? An excellent idea. I expect he will be willing, if he has not already done so on his own initiative."
Harry sat back in relief and Snape tossed the parchment into the cold hearth and said, "When I assure you that everything is taken care of, I do mean that."
Harry touched Snape's sleeve in gratitude.
"Tomorrow, if you are feeling up to it, we will do some more tests. I do not want you to feel like an experimental subject, so you must tell me if you wish to wait."
Harry firmly shook his head.
Harry returned to the couch and, curled up with his dressing gown to fight off a chill, waved to request that Ginny resume reading.
Aaron hitched an ankle up on his knee, tipped his head back and said, "Here I thought it might be fun this afternoon here at the Snape household."
Harry fell soundly asleep halfway through the second chapter. He awoke to his stomach rumbling in response to the scent of dinner.
"Severus roasted the lamb," Candide was saying.
"Really?" came Lupin's teasing response. "I fear what the sauce may contain . . ."
Aaron helped Harry sit up with a firm tug on his arm. "You probably want to eat, I expect. You were thin before letting the hounds of hell eat you halfway to the bone."
With Ron and Aaron's help, Harry stumbled to the dining room and was lowered into a chair. Snape's eagle eyes followed him as he stalled his painful hunger by fastidiously adjusting his place-setting. Harry could feel Snape's attention raking over him, but he had been having a strange dream about following a flock of golden horned goats around the Ministry and did not want to meet his guardian's gaze, so he pretended not to notice.
Across from him, Lupin took a seat beside Candide. He said, "I would have brought your cousin, Harry, but I wanted to see what shape you were in. Severus thought you had too many visitors already today. You were asleep when Minerva and I stopped by yesterday, and Severus' summary of what happened was not promising that you would be up for much excitement."
Harry did wish to see Pamela, but he wished to see her when he less resembled an invalid. Famished and with the scent of the roast rendering him into madness, Harry reached to serve himself with shaking hands. Before he could grab the fork on the roasting pan, his plate was slid away. Harry jerked back, but then found a full plate slid back under his nose.
Candide said, "Go ahead, Harry; you must be starved."
Harry tried to wait, but in the end began shoveling gravy soaked potatoes into his mouth.
"It's the tissue knitting potions," Snape explained to the general table. "They make one ravenous in the quantities he is taking them."
Midway through his second plate of food, Harry sat back to let it all settle down in his stomach. He watched Lupin across from him, holding the ivory fork and wooden handled knife loosely in his slightly clawed hands. Harry considered the taint he felt from him. Lupin put down the knife and concentrated on stabbing squares of meat, running them through the gravy on his plate and eating them in a way that almost hid his sharpened teeth.
Aaron asked Lupin, "So how is being temporary Head of Slytherin House treating you?"
"I think I'm getting the hang of it, then I realize the little devils are simply working around me in a new way." He smiled at Snape. "Severus accuses me of ruining them for him."
"You did not make them take the calendar down, I hear from Minerva," Snape said.
Harry glanced curiously between them and Lupin explained, "A homemade moon phase calendar, about four feet wide, appeared on the wall of the Common Room. With a crude Sticking Charm attached to it. I left it and wrote in mandatory detention in Forbidden Forest for worst made bed on the date of the full moon. And sure enough last Tuesday, all the beds were made." He gave a weak smile.
Harry leaned forward and put a hand out across the table. Lupin looked up at him, down at Harry's open palm, back up at him. With apparent reluctance, he rested his hand over Harry's, turning the pointed tips of his fingers off to the side.
The sense of taintedness leapt into sharp relief, like holding a bottle of water to the light to see india ink swirling in it.
From the head of the table, Snape said, "Try anything and I will ground you for a year."
Harry gripped Lupin's hand so he could not withdraw and turned to his guardian.
"You promised," Snape said.
Harry raised a doubtful brow. Not exactly, he thought back at him.
Snape pointed with his serrated steak knife. "A coma. I will put you in a coma if you try it."
Harry let go and pressed his hands between his knees, hunched, and in retrospect, bone tired.
"What's this?" Lupin asked.
"We'll discuss it after dinner. After I have a word, or two, or perhaps fifteen . . . with Harry, in private." He put down his utensils and sat back with his glass of wine and watched Harry while everyone else ate.
Ginny said, "When you are up to it, will you be willing to do an interview?"
Before Harry could respond, Snape said, "Excellent idea."
Harry turned to him in surprise and he gestured back at Ginny, who hesitantly said, "The rumors about you are almost worse than reality, Harry. I mean, I know it's to my benefit, well, I could even have someone else assigned, um, not Rita . . . but you should get out ahead of the rumors. Frame the narrative, as we call it."
"Should he? The reality sounds . . . " Ron began but stopped. "Well, bad enough, I was going to say."
Harry stared at the swirls of gravy and red meat juice staining the remains of his potatoes, wishing he could undo things. Go back and be stronger, somehow. Facing the public would be the strong thing to do now, he decided. He looked up at Ginny and nodded firmly when she turned his way.
"Do you want me to do the interview or someone else?"
Harry gestured that it should be her and she said, "When you are ready, let me know. But don't wait too long."
Harry reminded himself this was the strong thing to do and nodded that he understood.
Ron said, "Some wizards will always think the worst of you. The goblins have that problem too." He was speaking sagely, but added quickly, "But they don't care. I don't think."
Later in the drawing room, Snape closed the door and said, "This issue with your attempts to cure curses. I do not know if I can trust you."
Harry, swaying faintly on his feet, almost agreed.
"Sit down before you fall down," Snape said, putting a chair directly behind Harry and guiding him into it. It was a straight-backed chair, and under the effects of a food malaise, he struggled to remain in it.
"You do not even know if you can assist him."
Harry glared at him sharply. Snape levelly returned his gaze and after a beat, said, "Do you know?"
Harry nodded, and feeling difficult, looked away.
Snape leaned back against his desk and his robes rustled as he crossed his arms. "You are still my responsibility, do you not agree?"
At least he was calm this time, not hyper angry. In a way this was worse: the cold formality.
Harry relented and gave him back his gaze.
"I realize you desire to help others. You've always been that way, when your true shining self is allowed to come through, that is. But right now, you are your primary responsibility. Killing yourself would greatly reduce the number of people you can help later; perhaps it would help to bear that in mind when your heedless heroism tries to take over." He was starting to sound frustrated again.
Snape went on, "I promise you, Harry. When you are better I will tie Remus up, if necessary, so you may try whatever you wish on him. I will personally invite every werewolf in Europe, the whole world even, here, one at a time, for tea and some de-lycanthropy. I expect doing so would help ease your guilt immensely, if you can indeed perform this feat. I am more than willing to do all of this. But for now, you must rest. I will not let you harm yourself again."
Snape stepped closer and while his face eased into a more sympathetic expression, he kept his arms crossed. "Your instinct for self preservation is stunningly weak." He closed his eyes a long moment. "Obviously it is, or you would not be free of Voldemort. I realize this and, to a degree I would not have imagined, do honor that. But that does not mean I will stand aside while you are acting unwisely. Do you understand?"
Harry nodded, even as his guilt gnawed away at him with the teeth of inaction.
Touching Harry's shoulder, Snape said, "Maybe you'd be happier in a coma . . ."
Harry shook his head. He had to catch up on his reading.